Date: 19th June 2007 at 9:09pm
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There was some good chat on the radio this morning about some of sport’s greatest rivalries.

All the most popular sports were being discussed (football, golf, tennis, etc) and in the end only a single rivalry could be selected for each one. Considering the vast numbers of different choices you could have for each sport and also the fact that everyone views them all in their own way (personal favourites, etc), then I’m sure you can appreciate that it’s pretty difficult to get everyone to agree on just one. But what a great topic for debate!

When it came to football, all of the great derbies around the world were being discussed, but I wasn’t actually able to tune in long enough to find out which one was chosen as the best. It did sound as though the Old Firm derby was going to be up there though, and as much as most of us dislike those two clubs for various reasons, it really should be shouldn’t it? The Celtic-Rangers fixture is a giant in world football let alone just European.

I’m not particularly big on South American club football (I do know that they contain some pretty hot derby matches though!), so let’s see if we can identify the two clubs in Europe that we think have the greatest rivalry. Can we even say for sure what it is? I’m tempted to say ‘no’ almost straight away, because much more than the argument over who is the world’s biggest club, this is all down to individual perceptions isn’t it? Almost entirely in fact.

For example, who’s to say that the Real Madrid V Barcelona match has a greater rivalry than say Southampton V Portsmouth? Some would say that it most definitely is, because both Spanish clubs are arguably the biggest in their entire continent and their rivalry is famous around the world, primarily because it’s almost like an international fixture but between two clubs i.e. Catalonia V Spain. That’s how their fans see it anyway.

But even if the Real V Barca fixture is indeed a massive one with incredible rivalry for all sorts of reasons between the clubs, is a Portsmouth fan really going to agree that there is any less passion in that fixture than there is when his/her team play Southampton? No danger!

And that’s what it all boils down to isn’t it? The passion of the fans for a particular fixture. No matter which club you support, there is always one fixture that stands out more than any other. I’m not saying that all fans of a particular club will say that they look forward to this game more than the rest, as you always get exceptions to the rule, but generally there will be a match that most people focus on more than the rest.

The obvious big derby for most people in Scotland is the Celtic V Rangers fixture. This is quite simply an enormous match with pretty much all the ingredients required for a classic rivalry: two massive clubs with bags of history, both from the same city, both with supporters who practically live their lives for their football clubs in some cases and probably most significantly, a genuine hatred for each other that is difficult to see surpassed anywhere. Or so it would seem anyway. And the funny thing is, most of them don’t even know why they hate the other lot so much – they just do! I could go into the religious aspect as well, but this is primarily a football debate so I’d rather not go there.

But just because the Old Firm derby is such a huge fixture doesn’t mean that Hearts or Hibs fans feel that their derby is any less special. Granted, neither Edinburgh club can boast the same sort of crowds that their Glasgow counterparts can, but this doesn’t mean that your average Hibs fan does not detest Hearts any less believe me!

And that’s what a rivalry boils down to doesn’t it? Whether we like it or not, it’s the hatred for the other lot that injects a little bit of extra needle into these games…and most of us love it in a strange sort of way!

So with that criteria in mind then, can we identify two clubs in European (or perhaps even just British) football that we think hate each other more than any other? Again, it’s still very tough, but how about I throw some of these fixtures into the mix:

Juventus V Fiorentina (huge issues there, not sure if it’s related to Roberto Baggio’s transfer, but it’s major whatever it is!)

Manchester United V Liverpool (English football’s biggest inter-city grudge match perhaps? Historically a massive rivalry between the two clubs, who over the years have contrasted in so many ways)

Southampton V Portsmouth (I know a Pompey fan and I can honestly say I’ve NEVER met a man who hated a football club more than Southampton!)

Newcastle V Sunderland (Seems to be quite similar to Southampton V Pompey in that there’s a history between the two cities of a political nature, involving unemployment, etc. Hatred? Oh yes!)

Atletico Bilbao V Real Madrid (I only found out about this recently, but according to a Catalan friend of mine, this is the biggest hate fixture in Spain. Again it’s probably political, to do with Basque country Vs the old dictatorship….or something like that! He reckoned it was the Spanish equivalent of ‘Aberdeen-Rangers’! Speaking of which…)

Aberdeen V Rangers (When we’re talking hatred in Scottish football, this is arguably at the top of the tree. Apparently dates back 30 years or so to when Rangers fans used to regularly trash the city centre in Aberdeen, but things took an even bigger turn for the worst with the infamous Neil Simpson tackle on Iain Durrant in the late ’80s. All hell broke loose then and this fixture has never quite been the same since)

Of course, there are literally dozens of other fixtures I could have mentioned, so feel free to post your own particular experiences of big rivalries and grudge matches that you’ve been to in the comments below. For some reason I can sense a Man City V Man United coming from at least one of our regular posters and potentially Spurs V Arsenal as well.

The great thing is, no-one will be wrong!

PS If there is significant enough interest in this article, we’ll select some of the most popular choices and submit a poll next week.